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And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe

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A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave.

In her debut collection, Gwendolyn Kiste delves into the gathering darkness where beauty embraces the monstrous, and where even the most tranquil worlds are not to be trusted. From fairy tale kingdoms and desolate carnivals, to wedding ceremonies and summer camps that aren’t as joyful as they seem, these fourteen tales of horror and dark fantasy explore death, rebirth, and illusion all through the eyes of those on the outside—the forgotten, the forsaken, the Other, none of whom will stay in the dark any longer.

208 pages, Paperback

First published April 14, 2017

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About the author

Gwendolyn Kiste

109 books528 followers
Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, Reluctant Immortals, Boneset & Feathers, and Pretty Marys All in a Row, among others. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in outlets including Lit Hub, Nightmare, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vastarien, Tor Nightfire, Titan Books, and The Dark. She's a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and her fiction has also received the This Is Horror award for Novel of the Year as well as nominations for the Premios Kelvin and Ignotus awards.

Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, their excitable calico cat, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 128 reviews
Profile Image for Sadie Hartmann.
Author 23 books4,071 followers
August 13, 2020
Review originally published in SCREAM Mag issue 61 July/Aug 2020

I’m a huge fan of short story collections in the horror genre. For me, it’s the best way for me to see what an author has to offer. Typically, one collection will have several stories with a wide range of style and substance. After a particularly delicious collection, I’ll desire to seek out more and buy a novel. If the collection wasn’t a successful introduction, spending more time with that author won’t be a huge priority. Very effective.
AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE is a stellar example of how a collection can win a reader’s heart forever.
During my time with these stories, I fell in love. I marveled at the vulnerability and beautiful sorrow infused into the story, THE CLAWFOOT REQUIEM. A story about a young woman troubled by her sister’s suicide and unable to let go.
THE MAN IN THE AMBRY is an epistolary story of a unique relationship between something hiding in the walls and the girl who is secretly in love with it.
I read, AUDREY AT NIGHT after my whole family had gone to bed and I was the only one awake. It terrified me (which is a good thing). I read so much horror and I hate the idea of becoming too numb to feel those goosebumps so I relished the horror this story managed to evoke. THE FIVE DAY SUMMER CAMP reminds me of a modern-day STEPFORD WIVES or A CLOCKWORK ORANGE but with children. Parents sending their kids to a facility that ensures well-behaved, docile citizens by the end of “camp”.
SKIN LIKE HONEY AND LACE is a sexy, disturbing, and strikingly beautiful story about a species of women who prey on others at clubs and bars in order to get close enough to shave off some skin in order to apply it to their own skin. Getting that close to people often leads to dangerous feelings of intimacy. This one was tragic and heartbreaking. It primed the pump for my last favorite story, THE TOWER PRINCESSES. Fairytale like in style, Kiste tells the tale of young, attractive women being encapsulated in towers-making them inaccessible to the ones who fall in love with them. This story was so romantic and at the same time, an in-depth portrayal of how difficult it is to love who you love and to bravely chase that love no matter the cost. There was a lot going on in this short story, emotionally. It really struck a chord.
I can’t recommend this collection enough. Gwendolyn Kiste is a new favorite author of dark, haunting tales.
Profile Image for Richard.
984 reviews357 followers
October 31, 2017
This is one of the most consistently creative story collections I've read this year, second only to The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett. Every story here is inventive and original, whether conceptually or in the way they're presented. I went into this book expecting a scary story collection that I could jump into during my Horroroctober reading, but this collection is less horror and more of a compilation of dark fairy tales and tragic magical realism, all written in gorgeous, passionate prose.

While each story stands out on it's own, author Gwendolyn Kiste uses each imaginative premise to tell a tale of a unique woman, whether it's the woman who gives birth to birds in "Something Borrowed, Something Blue," the encased, persecuted girls in the heart-rending "The Tower Princesses," the scorned protagonist in the clever "By Now, I'll Probably Be Gone," or the neglected stage actress literally immortalized on screen in the sublime title story. These women are all outcasts or outsiders, the unwanted and forgotten, who ultimately free themselves from the limitations the world has placed on them. Each tale is special and I was especially touched by the final story, "The Lazarus Bride," a sad but deeply romantic story about holding on to something that you ultimately need to let go of.

I loved this. I was unfamiliar with Gwendolyn Kiste before but she made a real impression on me with this book. She seems to have a few more things coming down the pipeline so I'm excited to read more from her!
Profile Image for Eddie Generous.
649 reviews76 followers
June 11, 2017
Unnerving Magazine Review
This is another of those rare instances where I shall bury some my enthusiasm for the sake of professionalism. But first, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is absolutely fucking incredible.
There's an I-can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it feeling to most of the stories when it comes to pinning down a genre. The collection opens on a dark fantasy. It’s avian, it’s weird, it’s heavy, enveloping.
As far as result is concerned, little changes with the second story, swap the birds for disappearances and you’re about to understand that the fantastic first story was not a fluke, nor was the second, or third, or fourth...
Emotional and weighty in its descriptions and needs, The Clawfoot Requiem brings a touch more horror into the equation, but nothing brash or heartbeat pattering. It is a backdoor, all-consuming horrific vibe. 
As it happens often in this collection the unlikely digs in its nails and becomes a fact, something to lose, or burn up. There are fairy tale vibes, twisted and reimagined for tales of death, and rebirth, and mystery. 
A recurring theme here is the outsider, told from the view of the outsider. The unwanted figure looking in, cowering, running away from trauma. It’s not an unusual subject for fiction, but Gwendolyn Kiste offers such an original and wrenching distribution it would be difficult to compare her to many others.
I’ve read a book or two and none come to mind readily.
If I thought it necessary to go on along the same thread, it would be easy to point out titles in this collection that would standout placed in virtually any anthology of shorts. And do so over and over and over and... The voice and themes here shake the expected and reinvent the norms so easily the fantastical aspects fit everywhere. The somber tones and palpable emotions compliment in a perfect, eloquent companionship of dark literature. Gwendolyn Kiste has an imagination and delivery that is not only rare, but extraordinary. It is profound and touching on so many levels that this works towers above the majority of ARCs from my inbox.
After And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, Gwendolyn Kiste is on my personal short list of must-read authors. If there’s another collection as good as this in 2017, I will be surprised. I certainly won’t hold my breath on it.
Profile Image for Mike Thorn.
Author 23 books219 followers
June 20, 2017
Gwendolyn Kiste bookends her short story collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe with two pieces written in the second-person. At first glance, the device might appear to work toward a tone of urgency, or a forced closeness between reader and text (and it does both of these things), but the technique works on several other registers, too. Both of these stories, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” and “The Lazarus Bride,” undergo a complicated study of otherness and self-dissociation (two themes that re-emerge repeatedly throughout the book), all while foregrounding meticulously honed plot momentum and structure. This single example is one among countless demonstrations of Kiste’s heightened literary consciousness; this is an extremely rare breed of fiction debut, whose assuredness, complexity, and above all whose singular perspective suggest a lifetime of practice. Think Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1952), Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1986), Kathe Koja’s The Cipher (1991), or Clive Barker’s Books of Blood (1985).

Read the full review on Unnerving Magazine's website.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 37 books435 followers
August 26, 2017
A stellar collection of shorts that fans of Bradbury and Jackson will want to snap up immediately!

Kiste is killing it—get involved :)
Profile Image for Ctgt.
1,435 reviews82 followers
February 19, 2018
In this moment, she is all things, and her jagged pieces fit into the curves of my jagged pieces, and the two of us, these broken girls, are whole for the first time.

This collection started a bit slowly for me but quickly climbed from good to great. Even though it is listed as a Stoker award finalist I wouldn't call this horror, at least not in the traditional sense, there are few real"squishy" moments but plenty of interesting/odd ideas that remind you of something otherworldly or ephemeral.

The Clawfoot Requiem-two sisters and how to deal with death
She was a ghost even when she was alive.

All the Red Apples have Withered to Gray-an interesting twist on the Sleeping Beauty tale.

The Man in the Ambry-a young girl deals with an "imaginary" friend as she ages.

Audrey at Night- a woman is visited by a former rival.

The Five-Day Summer Camp-an older sister tries to help her sibling deal with summer camp.
Adults always thought kids were too stupid to figure out the truth, and sometimes, it was easier to let them go on believing that.

Skin Like Honey and Lace-one of my favorite stories and truthfully I'm not sure how to blurb this. All I can say is read it.
"Figured it was you when I turned the corner", she says. "Your skin sings differently than the others. Like famine and lullabies."
He won't see me for what I am-a cage of beautiful bones I've hidden too long beneath other people's promises.

The Tower Princesses-another of my favorites, a twist on how we build walls around each other (the quote from the beginning of the review is from this story)

Victims are someone to blame.

And Her Smile will Untether the Universe-a man becomes infatuated with an actress from the early days of movies.

Your heart tugs tight like a stone in your chest, as the sunlight hits her face just right. Her skin shimmers, a strange shift that doesn't look confined to the screen. It looks like it's happening somewhere in the middle, between where she is and where you are.

The Lazarus Bride-a man is desperately in love with his new bride.

We end in fire. All beautiful things end in fire.

A great collection of stories that was well worth the price. Hoping for more from this author.


Everything's gossamer here, paper lanterns on exposed bulbs to minimize the glare, all the harshness in the world scrubbed away.

Profile Image for Christa.
Author 28 books165 followers
February 25, 2018
***This review contains spoilers***

'And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe,' Gwendolyn Kiste:
“Something Borrowed, Something Blue”
The first story in ‘And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe,’ Gwendolyn Kiste’s debut short fiction collection, is a haunting tale about a woman whose womb is the origin of twelve birds’ births, and whose life both unravels and, surprisingly, comes full circle because of this strange affliction. There is a disconcerting feel to the events of the story, an almost Hitchcockian disquiet in that the reader is uncertain of just what the birds are capable of. There is a macabre beauty, a feeling of divine otherness at work as well, that progresses in the story like cool water in a fast-flowing river thanks to the lyricism of Gwendolyn’s prose. The concept of “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” is dark and intriguing, and its execution is flawless. It’s written in the second person, and I’m beginning to think—after this piece, as well as the titular story, and Gwendolyn’s contribution to the Unnerving anthology, ‘Hardened Hearts,’ “40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover” (“The Lazarus Bride” is written in first person but incorporates a significant amount of narration in the second person as well)—that there’s really no one deploying the second person point of view to their advantage within horror and dark fantasy better than Gwendolyn at present. I can think of other works that utilize the second person skillfully, but none that combine page-turning plot, atmospheric setting, strong character development, and hypnotizing language the way “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” does.

“Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions”
A chilling story with a unique structure, this one had me checking the bed beside me to make sure my husband had not up and joined the ranks of the missing. The questions that weren’t really questions, but “just a series of banal statements,” were a perfect mix of apocalyptic foreboding and, well, a banal standardized testing questionnaire. Tally is an endearing and relatable friend to our narrator, the kind of friend you always wished you’d had, but who now might very well be leading you toward a place from which you cannot return. Do you trust her guileless smile, and follow her when it’s your time? With the ‘real’ world as Gwendolyn paints it in ‘Ten Things to Know,’ do you have a choice? (Okay, Gwendolyn’s stylistic choices must be rubbing off on me, because I’m now writing my review in the second person!)

“The Clawfoot Requiem”
I’m always mesmerized by stories of female madness, because so many of them are truly about the illusion of madness overlaid upon a woman’s grief, or otherwise inappropriate emotional state, and “The Clawfoot Requiem” is another entry into this canon. Who is to say that Sabrina’s sister’s soul was not suspended in the bloodied bathwater, which is really to say, who is to dictate that there is only one right way to grieve? I found this story to be deliciously reminiscent of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in that the female protagonist is constantly being bullied into how she should feel by ill-advised, ‘well’-intentioned family members, where ‘well’-intentioned means ‘my’-intentions, for whichever character is presently forcing his or her beliefs onto the sufferer (related side note: Sabrina and Savannah’s aunt is a perfectly wretched villainess.) I felt that the ending, in which Sabrina has managed to salvage a portion of her sister’s soul into a Mason jar and triumphantly states, “But we fooled them all[...d]idn’t we darling?” also echoed the counterintuitively gleeful scene at the close of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story:
‘ “I’ve got out at last[...]in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him ever time!’
“The Clawfoot Requiem” ends with the line: “Giggling, Savannah smiled back at me.”
Female madness? Or the celebration of a hard-earned success after an acute period of grief (or post-partum depression)? Who is to say, really?

“All the Red Apples Have Withered to Grey”
A dark and daring fairy tale, in which the daughter of a heartless apple orchard owner sets her father’s world on fire, and in doing so, achieves her freedom. Notice I didn’t say ‘earns’ her freedom, because it was never her father’s right to hold her, or any of the other sleeping girls, hostage in the first place. I absolutely adore stories that upset traditional gender roles, and ‘All the Red Apples’ took the power from the princes, the counts, the barons, and the cruel and punitive fathers, and put it into the hands of the patient and long-suffering women. I relished the moment the protagonist sets fire to the apple trees, and only hoped the blaze would consume everything unworthy of persisting.

“The Man in the Ambry”
Ah, “The Man in the Ambry.” What a bold, remarkable story. I loved the epistolary structure (one sided, mind you, until the very last letter, from ‘A Distraught Mother’) and again, the element, and analysis-through story-telling, of female otherness disguised as female madness. The reader was privy to so much of Molly Jane Richards’ personality through both her letters, and the clever, humorous, and always-fitting sign-offs she included at each letter’s close. I longed for Molly’s ambry-dwelling pen pal to be disproved a figment of her imagination à la the Gerard Johnstone-directed New Zealand horror film, ‘Housebound,’ but alas, this was not how our trusted author saw things fit to be. As it was, I valued the ending I received over the ending I desired, and imagined Molly to finally be among her only two friends, Snappy and Andrew, along with all the dead mice they could laugh at.

“Find Me, Mommy”
This story, while eerie and horrific, has immense sadness weaved within its words, and in that sadness brings to mind “The Monkey’s Paw.” Yes, there are things worse than death, but would we mind facing them if it meant we got to see our lost loved ones again? A short but poignant story, and one anyone, not just a mother, can relate to, to the pain that moves in at the first clutch of the Grim Reaper’s skeletal fingers, and the lengths we’d go to see through the miasma of death.

“Audrey at Night”
I was shocked at how powerful this story was, with subject matter—a woman who ends up marrying her high school best friend’s boyfriend—that wouldn’t normally strike me as rife with hard-hitting emotion and exceptionally creepy scenes. The twist at the end made “Audrey at Night” one of my favorites in the collection; the surprise revelation made the protagonist’s situation no less monstrous, but took the identity of the monster and pinned it on another point of the star-crossed love triangle (although, once the twist was revealed, the actual monster made a lot more sense, both in the ‘real’ world, and in the world Gwendolyn has created within her two hundred and five page collection). Don’t get me wrong; regardless of Daniel’s actions and how both Kaylee and Audrey’s perceptions of them shed light on the story’s true monster, Audrey creeping across the floor with her claw-like fingernails? Nightmare fuel!

“The Five Day Sumer Camp”
Like “Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions,” “The Five Day Summer Camp” has a secret that it’s not giving up, yet acknowledges that the kids at the center of the respective controversies know more about what’s going on than the adults give them credit for. Know more, and are not liking what that knowledge entails. The pair of sisters featured in this tale are impossible not to root for, and though I feared Arabella had been transformed by the brainwashing tactics of the five-day summer camp, I had faith in both the author and the influence of Arabella’s sister, Madeline, and was relieved when the “fun” and retribution were only being postponed until a Red Day in the (hopefully) very near future.

“Skin Like Honey and Lace”
I held the concept of this story in high veneration, published for the first time in this collection and on the cusp of the year of the two-hundredth anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The young women in “Skin Like Honey and Lace” are bound by a terrible habit (I won’t say bound by a terrible ‘need’ because by the story’s close, the M.C. makes the decision to go against what was assumed to be the group’s—lead by Emily—very nature); for a long while this habit sustains them; ultimately, it causes them to devolve into women connected only be “heinous ritual[s] catalogued and forgotten.” To piece oneself together with layers of other humans’ skin could be a metaphor for a thousand horrid fates we suffer every day, and that comes across here, but never at the expense of the story, or of Clare’s redemptive relationship with Nathalie, and the achingly beautiful final scene the two characters’ share.

“By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone”
The only thing I want to say about this flash piece is that the space between the opening line: “By now, I’ll probably be gone” and the last: “Unless of course, I’m still here,” makes that final utterance so very, very terrifying.

“Through Earth and Sky”
Another shorter piece, structured around a twist on second person story-telling: “If they listened, they’d...” This story is full of loss, magic, suffering, loyalty, and witchcraft. Perhaps, if readers listened, they’d feel the full weight of this story on their consciences.

“The Tower Princesses”
It must be said that one of my favorite short stories of all time is Joe Hill’s “Pop Art.” The story is about an inflatable boy named Arthur, or, Art, and the best friend who loved and lost him, and it is presented, in that wonderful way that magical realism allows for, as if the concept of a walking, talking inflatable boy is as natural as red hair or different colored skin tones. Like red hair and different colored skin—the natural human traits of different individuals—being inflatable carried with it enough of that notion of “otherness” (an “otherness” projected by close-minded people onto those they are deeming, ‘other’) to result in Art, and in the case of “The Tower Princesses,” Linnea and the other girls locked in vertical coffin-like structures made of brass, mahogany, redwood, barbed wire, or rose thorns, being condemned to the status of ‘outsider.’ As outsiders, Art and Linnea attract sensitive, ‘other’-in-their-own-way, friends, and in the spaces between those respective friendships are the cruxes of these stories’ effectiveness. Emotionally, “The Tower Princesses” absolutely slayed me; lost innocence, the death of a relationship, of a life together that could have been, and Mary’s blind hopefulness that it might still be...what this meant for me was that perhaps of all the stories in Gwendolyn’s collection, “The Tower Princesses’ ” hypothetical ending is the most devastating one.

“And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe”
Of course, it must be said that “And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe” is a homerun of a story title, and an obvious eponymous story for the collection. Another second person point of view choice that works well with the story’s subject matter, and a relatable premise, for what purveyor of the cinematic arts has not become fixated on an actor or actress that truly seems larger than life?

“The Lazarus Bride”
At this point in my review, it’s obvious that to say I enjoyed Gwendolyn Kiste’s debut collection is a vast understatement of poisonous-apple guile. By the time I reached the final installment, I didn’t think it would be possible for a story to sweep me off my feet any more than “Audrey at Night,” “The Man in the Ambry,” or especially “The Tower Princesses” already had. And then I come to “The Lazarus Bride.” This wasn’t just my favorite story of the collection, it ended up being one of those short stories that, as Carmen Maria Machado likes to put it, “changed my very temperature.” That it’s about a newly-married (or, long-married?) woman who bursts into flames each night and has to be called back from the ashes by her well-meaning but regrettably inadequate husband only fuels that ‘raised temperature’ metaphor to perfection. This story spoke to my very soul, and I love how I could think of numerous symbolic explanations for the “you” of this story, the M.C.’s Lazarus bride (remember, this story is in first person, but the first person protagonist utilizes second person often in his narration of events), but that I could choose the explanation that best spoke to me as the reader, and subsequently underwent the most utterly rewarding of reading experiences. Talk about an amazing example of an idea starting in an author’s head and ending in the reader’s...this story is the epitome of how a great piece of fiction makes the reader do some of the work. I loved it to the point that I read it several more times after the initial devouring, and took something different away from it, something a little more resonant and heart-breaking, each time.

It is safe to say that this will be the case with Gwendolyn Kiste’s collection on the whole: I will absolutely reread ‘And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe’ whenever I want a full-bodied, intoxicating dose of horror/dark fantasy; whenever I want to be made proud of the work Gwendolyn is doing for women in the genre, and for the genre in general; whenever I want to be inspired by Gwendolyn’s ability to twist tropes, gender roles, and story structure; and whenever I want to have to work as a reader, to engage my senses and my intellect, as only the very best of authors are wont to have their readers do.
Profile Image for Rebecca Gransden.
Author 14 books212 followers
January 29, 2022
Astonishing collection of psychologically astute uncanny fiction stories. Kiste exerts a maturity over these tales, and common to them all is a readable lyricism. What is most impressive, and enjoyable, about these tales is the fluidity and depth of the writing style. Kiste is a member of a generation of writers awkwardly categorised as horror authors, a term increasingly woefully inadequate. While the tales adeptly adhere to traditional short story genre structure, there is a type of subtle subversion taking place that adds to the unease of the themes of the pieces themselves. Like most evergreen horror writers, Kiste deals in the terror that really gets us in the gut — loss, regret, rejection, subjugation, all the real stuff — and makes it manifest. Her style is one that incorporates the twist of archetypes and expectation. The stories frequently allude to fairytale or mythic themes. And they possess a slow, creeping dread that rings true. Kiste weaves surreal imagery into the tales that succeeds in being as beautiful as it is unsettling, because however bizarre there is a truthful emotional grounding. Which makes for a disturbing and resonant reading experience. I don’t read too many horror story collections, but this is the best since Padgett. A supreme example of the best of modern genre fiction writing.
Profile Image for Emily.
1,265 reviews333 followers
August 9, 2018
"Sometimes I've wondered if maybe I wasn't meant for this world. Maybe my job was to taste stars, but everyone got me off track."

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is now one of my favorite books I've read this year. This was an amazing collection, and every single story in here got 5 stats from me. This book has been on my TBR since it was nominated for a Stoker, and I can't believe it took me this long to read it. The stories in this book are gorgeous, dark, and haunting. I probably felt every emotion while reading this book. It is so personal, and I felt connected to many of the stories.

If I had to pick my top 5 favorites, they're probably The Clawfoot Requiem, Skin Like Honey and Lace, The Lazarus Bride, The Man in the Ambry, and Something Borrowed, Something Blue. I loved all of them so much, though.

Reading this book reminded me of when I started reading Sylvia Plath - I felt connected & understood. And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe made me feel a little bit less alone. This is something I know I'll be re-reading - I could choose any of the stories from this book & be happy. This book handles all sorts of female relationships, and I believe there is only one story that has a man as the main character. I appreciated that, and I think that's part of why the book was so easy to connect to.

I cannot recommend this book enough - treat yourself & pick up this book. I'm still thinking about it today.
Profile Image for Bill Hsu.
762 reviews138 followers
October 15, 2017
So this was a (rare) great discovery thanks to Black Static (#59 in particular). The title seems a bit overreaching; please overlook that.

4 stars is probably generous for me, with my reservations with some of the pieces. But the narrators' voices are usually rendered beautifully, and the prose is mostly witty and charming, a pleasure to chew over.

Some choice openings; from "Something Borrowed, Something Blue":
A yellow beak, the shape of a crescent moon, pricks through your abdomen, and you know it's time.

"The Clawfoot Requiem":
When my sister Savannah set out to do something, she never failed to impress. So on the morning she opened her wrists and emptied what was left of her heart, the bathroom looked less like a butcher block and more like an altar.

The tone of the letters in "The Man in the Ambry" is beautifully sustained and developed. And I love the play with structure in "Ten Things to Know about the Ten Questions".

Kiste mentioned in an interview that she'll work on a collaboration with Emily Cataneo, whose Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories I'm also enthusiastic about. Yessss.
Profile Image for Phillip Smith.
135 reviews24 followers
June 27, 2020
This is an excellent collection. Gwendolyn Kiste is an absolute magician, weaving dark fairy tales that cut so very deep. Her writing is poetic, and I found myself easily enthralled with her twisted worlds. This makes me even more excited to read The Rust Maidens.
Profile Image for Alicia.
397 reviews140 followers
February 6, 2022
3.5⭐️ An engaging collection of horror-tinged short stories, powered by grief, fairytales and injustice.

While consistently engaging and full of creativity, there was one stand one story—Audrey at Night—that may be one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I’d recommend this collection for that story alone. It follows an expecting mother of her first child who is haunted every night by the ghost of her best friend who died a decade earlier. This story was WILD.
Profile Image for Audra (ouija.reads).
739 reviews252 followers
August 13, 2018
This is one horror collection that no shelf should be without.

I have been hearing a lot of love for this writer and this collection of stories, and it is completely justified. The hype is real, y'all! Go out and buy your copy immediately—no joke.

The stories felt in the tradition of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, with a mix of fairy tale elements like the twist on a poisoned apple story or the tale of princesses stuck in castles, some strangeness that could be read as metaphorical but also worked as great body horror like the one where a woman is giving birth to birds or the one where a group of women hunt for potential victims and peel their skin off to use for themselves.

In these stories, Kiste explores women at the fringes—the outcasts, the strange, the othered. The stories are interested in how these women are seen as outsiders and how they work with the limitations others have put on them and overcome them in one way or another.

I loved how the characters in these stories take action. They are not the stagnant, mopey, unreliable narrator types that are so common in the popular thrillers today. These women are powerful and have clear, strong notions of what they want from the world, even if that notion is not the one that lines up with what everyone else wants. Kiste's character's learn they aren't afraid to take what should have been theirs all along. It's empowering and beautiful while leaning over the edge into strange, fantastical, and frightening.

Sometimes the stories defy logic, sometimes they go to very dark places, but they never failed to impress me with the breadth of their creativity, the beauty of the language, and the sharp insights that are not something you always find in horror fiction.

A beautiful and haunting collection. There is not a weak story in the set. Kiste is an author I'm adding to my instant-buy list.
Profile Image for Jamie.
141 reviews23 followers
January 3, 2019
"We hold on to the memories we don't want, and we lose the ones we cherish."

2019 is going to be the year that I clear some space on my top bookshelf, which is reserved for my favorite reads. I need some room to include the work of Gwendolyn Kiste! Of all the short story collections I've read, this one moved me the most.

Kiste's writing pulled me in from the very first line of the acknowledgements, and it was a struggle to set this collection down from then on. Every single story in this book is well written, and they are woven together by strong female characters and themes of being overlooked, forgotten, or deemed an outsider by society.

If I had to choose, my top five favorite stories would be:

-Skin Like Honey and Lace

-The Tower Princesses

-The Man in the Ambry

-All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray

-Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions

I've often been asked why I love books and films that others might find disturbing, and my main answer is that they make me feel. Even if it's not always happy, I enjoy the experience of so many emotions. This collection made me feel. The stories brought me to tears a time or two, and there were many lines that resonated with my own experiences. Closing this book felt like being released from a warm embrace that I never want to end.
Profile Image for Sarah Budd.
Author 18 books74 followers
March 25, 2017
I've long been an admirer of Gwendolyn Kiste ever since I discovered one of her stories, Audrey at Night, in Sanitarium Magazine. She's had her work published in all the top magazines such as Nightmare, Shimmer, Lamplight, and Interzone and has such a unique gift for story telling.

So I was very excited to hear that she's about to release her debut collection with Journal Stone in April 2017.

I would describe the 14 tales in this collection as beautiful horror, enchanting like a fairy tale, spell binding, ethereal, but underneath the surface lies something very dark and unsettling

This is horror but with a strong feminine touch which is a much needed thing in the horror genre today which is heavily dominated with men. It's like a quiet horror that builds with every page. Tales that you will want to read again and again.

These are the stories of the forgotten and the rejected who refuse to fall asunder to change what makes them special to fit in. Powerful themes are dealt with in this collection such as illusions which keep us bound, love, loyalty, revenge and utmost regret. It celebrates the lives of people who see things differently who don't want to stand in line with everyone else.

For me the stand out tales are; The Tower Princesses, The Five Day Summer Camp, The Clawfoot Requiem and of course, Her Smile Will Untether the Universe.
Profile Image for sarah.
350 reviews8 followers
March 15, 2023
Wow, I absolutely adored this collection. Not since “Her Body and Other Parties” have I been this jazzed about a short story collection. It helps that both have a lot of the same underlying themes: feminist twists on fairy tales, ghost stories, the turmoil of motherhood, the dangers of being a girl, etc. I am definitely going to revisit this book again and again and it will absolutely be in my top 3 favorites I’ve read in 2019.

A few standout stories to me were definitely:
“10 Things to Know About the 10 Questions”
“Dear Man in the Ambry”
“The Tower Princesses”
and my absolute favorite that I’m going to go back to time and time again will be “Audrey at Night”

will continue to read Kiste’s work immediately.
Profile Image for Stephanie M. Wytovich.
Author 67 books233 followers
April 29, 2018
This collection of stories made me feel like I fell down the rabbit hole into a dark, whimsical Wonderland shared by the Brother's Grimm. It was gorgeous, hauntingly beautiful, and told from a refreshing voice in the horror world. This was my first encounter with Kiste's work, but it certainly won't be my last. Count me a fan.
Profile Image for Mindi.
803 reviews268 followers
August 9, 2018
Pull out your list making accoutrements, because this reviewer is about to GUSH. This darkly beautiful collection of short stories is exactly what I needed right now, and Kiste has now become another of my favorite authors. Write the name of this collection at the top of your TBR list, readers.

A huge thank you to all of my friends who kept bringing Kiste up whenever I talked about how my TBR was continually lacking in horror fiction by women. I know my friend Emily mentioned this collection recently, and my bestie Sadie has brought her up on multiple occasions. I also know there are more of you who kept trying to steer me in Kiste's direction, and I'm sorry I can't think of you all now, but thanks so much to each and every one of you.

This dark and eerie collection made my soul sing. From the very first story I was hooked. I adore birds, and "Something Borrowed, Something Blue" is the type of story I feel like I've been looking for forever. It's bizarre and beautiful all at once. I actually think those two words could sum up most of the stories in this collection. I love bizarre and speculative fiction, and Kiste writes in these subgenres masterfully. My friend Sadie and I have talked about how some books feel like going home. And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe made me feel like I was discovering a home I never knew I had; a place that felt both cozy and familiar, but new and exciting all at once.

I love how all of these stories have female protagonists, and how all of them are outcasts from society. These are women who live on the fringes of what is "acceptable" and none of them allow judgement from others to change how they live. "Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions" had me answering the questions for myself, and that made me feel a kinship with Tally who fails the questions but doesn't care. She knows she doesn't conform and she embraces it. "The Clawfoot Requiem" is a melancholy tale about two sisters with a heartbreaking conclusion. "All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray" is a fairy tale that takes all the conventions of a fairy tale and throws them out the window. And I adore that. "The Man in the Ambry" is a quietly creepy little story about one girl's obsession with a ghost, and "Find Me, Mommy" and "Audry at Night" are sincerely creepy stories. "Audry at Night" has some absolutely terrifying imagery, and then at the very end of the story Kiste pulls the rug out from under the reader and delivers a twist I never saw coming. "The Five-Day Summer Camp" is a tense reflection on conformity that left a smile on my face at the end. "Skin Like Honey and Lace" is a wonderfully bizarre love story, and "The Tower Princesses" is another fairy tale that tells convention to take a hike. It reminded me a lot of the novella Stacking Doll by Carlton Mellick III. In Kiste's story tower princesses are now permitted to attend school with other kids. And I'm not talking about princesses who have been saved from a tower, but ones who go everywhere with their tower with them. The title story is one that felt the most familiar and yet new at the same time. It's about a person who becomes obsessed with a murdered film actress in a way that will affect both of them. And the final story "The Lazarus Bride" is one that spoke to me on a very personal level.

I didn't mention every single story, although it probably sounds like I did, but that's due to the strength of this collection. There isn't a dud in the bunch. Every single one appealed to some part of me, and I devoured this collection, while at the same time never wanting it to end. This is by far my favorite short story collection this year, and now I need everything that Kiste has written. This book speaks to me on a level that appeals to both the romantic and dark parts of my personality equally. I cannot recommend this one enough.
April 26, 2021
As a huge fan of The Rust Maidens, I can’t believe it took me this long to pick up And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe! I should have read this years ago because I was really missing out.

This short story collection was fantastic. Each story is unique yet poetically written. There are elements of magical realism, dark fantasy, psychological horror, feminism, being an outcast, love and loss, and so much more! I also appreciated how each story complimented one another, yet were very different too so they never felt too similar or repetitive. Plus Gwendolyn Kiste can really write well. Her writing style is very moody and atmospheric and I love that in a story.

I honestly don’t know if I have a favorite story from this collection, which is positive because that means the whole collection was consistently good and unique. I guess if I had to pick, I did especially like The Tower Princesses, The Five Day Summer Camp, Skin Like Honey and Lace, The Clawfoot Requiem, and And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe.

I also think it’s pretty amazing that a few of these stories were written in second person (which I normally don’t like) but somehow Kiste made it work and it felt fitting for the stories she was telling.

Overall, this is a highly recommended short story collection that most horror fans will love. I even think dark fantasy and magical realism fans will love this one too because these stories feel like modern fairytales.
Profile Image for Rob Errera.
Author 34 books4 followers
March 25, 2018
Gwendolyn Kiste has a wonderful way with words. In her hands they are beautiful and savage, comforting and terrifying, heart-wrenching and healing.
And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe contains some true gems, tales thick with atmosphere and murky mood. “Evening settles softly on the orchard like black tar dripping from the sky” and later, “the air tastes of nicotine and abandoned dreams.”
These stories are about dysfunctional families, twisted sisters, and haunted mothers and fathers. “The Clawfoot Requiem” is reminiscent of William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” while “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray” reads like a nightmarish fairy tale about forgotten princesses.
“My father counts the money each night, pacing circles like a vulture that dines on the carrion of frail dreams.”
“Little girls don’t earn the right to question the wisdom of men. We can smile and blush and nod our heads, but we can’t tell them no.”
“Girls are always expected to carry an impossible burden in life, like a thousand bushels of apples strapped upon a single back.”
Stories like “The Man in the Ambry”, and “Ten Things To Know About The Ten Questions” showcase Kiste’s powerful prose and unique take on familiar horror tropes, while the title tale, about an old film star brought to life by a fan’s love, is fueled by poetry and romance.
“The way you hold me,” you said, your gaze bright as wildfire, “it’s like I’m falling, but you’ve already caught me.”
And the final line:
“And in the final frame, as the universe fades to black, you’ll save each other.”
Indeed, if only we could all save each other. And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe is a brilliant, lyrical, and moving collection of tales.
Profile Image for Christopher Payne.
Author 5 books219 followers
March 10, 2017
A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave.

In her debut collection, Gwendolyn Kiste delves into the gathering darkness where beauty embraces the monstrous, and where even the most tranquil worlds are not to be trusted. From fairy tale kingdoms and desolate carnivals, to wedding ceremonies and summer camps that aren’t as joyful as they seem, these fourteen tales of horror and dark fantasy explore death, rebirth, and illusion all through the eyes of those on the outside—the forgotten, the forsaken, the Other, none of whom will stay in the dark any longer.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
Author 3 books129 followers
May 14, 2018
These stories are nothing short of devastating. They never go where you think but always end in some dark corner. There is longing and it is bittersweet. There is love but it is never enough. A pervasive oddity clings that is unlike anyone else's. These stories are cracked, damaged, twisted but not into the usual forms. There is especially effective use of fairy tale tropes and the 2nd person. Many of these tales are so striking I will not soon forget and still find myself thinking about. You need this book in your life.
Profile Image for Robert Vanneste.
198 reviews21 followers
April 14, 2020
4.0 - 4.5 . This is the best anthology I've read in a long time . Lyrical with a hint of darkness .
Profile Image for Suz Jay.
916 reviews45 followers
October 3, 2018
“We hold on to the memories we don’t want, and we lose the ones we cherish. Scientists should figure out a way to preserve happiness in a jar of formaldehyde, like that vivisected bullfrog we saw once at the Natural History Museum. Then we could smile all the time.”

This phenomenal collection consists of fourteen short stories, a mix of ones published in prestigious literary magazines and tales found only in this work. Each story serves up an emotional journey. My favorites include “The Clawfoot Requiem,” “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray,” and “By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone.”

��The Clawfoot Requiem” demonstrates a woman’s attempt to hold on to her dear sister and all she loses in the process. In “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray,” the narrator goes against the norm to claim her own fairytale ending. “By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone” is a hauntingly story of betrayal.

Kiste’s lush prose wraps the reader in a comfy cocoon as each story unlocks a new horror. This dark collection is a must read.
March 19, 2023
Does it really deserve only two stars?
Probably not, but it frustrated me enough to earn it in my eyes. Not worth the two good short stories.
For the most part, it read like an introduction to the most basic feminist theory, which would be fine if it was aimed at a much younger audience. It read like YA fiction with adult horror sometimes thrown in. I almost wish i DNF'd it, but kept hoping it would get good.
Well, life is sometimes dissappointing, isn't it?


Gonna be reading this one slowly and rate the stories as I go along.

"Something Borrowed, Something Blue" - ⭐️⭐️⭐️ - It was fine, but not much more imo. I felt as if the prose could've been either less or much more descriptive. As it stands, it was okay, a bit disturbing (in a good way) but nothing too special.
"Ten Things To Know About [...]" - ⭐️⭐️⭐️ - This one hit different, not gonna lie. Probably because I'm a psychology student and well... Yeah, it hit different. Prose was still just okay.
„The Clawfoot Requiem” - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ -
This one REALLY hit different. It was very predictable, but affected me greatly. I don’t even think it needed riveting plot and masterful plot twists. It wasn’t about that (at least for me). Best one so far.
“All the Red Apples […]” - ⭐️⭐️ -
I liked some of the descriptions, the idea was interesting enough, but felt too derivative. I felt like I’ve read this before, the message was VERY plain. Was it true? Yeah, but again, I’ve read this before.
"The Man in the Ambry" - ⭐️⭐️⭐️ -
Really liked the change in format, very interesting premise, but ended up being slightly underwhelmed by the ending.
"Find me, Mommy" - ⭐️⭐️ -
Again, underwhelming.
"Audrey at Night" - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ -
Probably one of the best in the collection (at least for now). I still think about it sometimes, genuinely creepy and quite sad.
"The Five-Day Summer Camp" - ⭐️⭐️⭐️ -
Meh, predictable. The message too hamfisted, I don't really see the point. Underwhelming yet again, I don't see the horror either.
"Skin Like Honey and Lace" - ⭐️⭐️⭐️ -
I honestly don't know what to say, the premise was very cool but like... Meh? I get what it was trying to say, but that's what probably made it just kinda boring to me. Nothing special.
"By Now, I'll Probably Be Gone" - ⭐️⭐️ -
Sounds like a first draft of something I would've written at 14 yo during a particularly boring math class.
"Through Earth and Sky" - ⭐️ -
Love it when white people write about POC expirience. 🤪 Ngl, starting to loose patience with this collection.
”The Tower Princess” - ⭐️⭐️ -
2,5 stars because DAMN the lost potential of this one. It sounded like it wanted to say a lot and ended up not saying much at all. Disappointing.
”And Her Smile Will […]” - ⭐️⭐️ -
I can't tell what this one was supposed to actually be about, honestly. Not creepy, not spooky, not that interesting.
"The Lazarus Bride" - ⭐️
Way too heavy-handed for me, the metaphor as subtle as a knife to glass. Got bored quickly and skipped ahead, I don't care about any of these people. ESPECIALLY about toxic men.
Profile Image for Aaron.
Author 13 books24 followers
April 25, 2017
This collection is the first exposure I’ve had to Gwendolyn Kiste’s work, and if I can’t find her earlier works I will definitely be searching for her future work as it comes out. And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is comprised of fourteen stories that show a familiar world with deep currents of bizarre beauty, pain, and sheer anomaly running through it that create a tapestry of weird horror unlike anything I’ve read before. I’m not going to give examples simply because it’s unique with every story and does nothing to try to create comparison where there is none. Suffice it to say Kiste has a wonderful gift of taking elements of life that we may take for granted or may think don’t affect us at all, then show a gem within it which can evoke wonder or sorrow or terrifying empathy, all of them at the same time not being out of the question.

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe has many stories that literally are a hard mile's walk in someone else’s shoes, and a large part of the surreal beauty and tragedy that weave throughout these tales is wondering how they do it. Kiste is a beautiful and disturbing new voice in literary horror, and any who enjoys reading it or who is just looking for an exciting new avenue of the of the Weird is doing themselves a grave disservice if they do not pick it up.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
Author 22 books47 followers
July 7, 2017
I’ve been a fan of Gwendolyn Kiste since first discovering her dark fairy tale, “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray,” in the online pages of Shimmer. I was delighted to see her first collection debut this spring. Kiste has a gift for braiding darkness with beauty, for finding the arresting image and evocative line. There are fiercely retold fairy tales in this collection, creeping horrors, a science-fiction dystopia, and--amidst the darkness and fear--glimpses of freedom and light. “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray” remains one of my personal favorites, but “The Tower Princesses” (which plays with the tale of Rapunzel and tropes of trapped princesses in a contemporary setting) tore at my heart. I loved the building tension in the science fictional “The Five-Day Summer Camp.” I loved the way Kiste depicts body horrors with beauty, as in her tale, “Skin Like Honey and Lace.” And I love her exploration of painful emotional truths, as in her concluding tale, “The Lazarus Bride.” Her stories vary in subject, but they are all united by her immediately compelling voice. If you like darkness and tension illuminated with gorgeous prose, this collection is for you.
Profile Image for Cheryl Z.
Author 10 books13 followers
April 21, 2021
I'm sorry it took me so long to read this collection. I read one of Gwendolyn's stories in an anthology and I loved it so I bookmarked this quite a while ago to read. I'm glad I got to it.

These stories are beautiful nightmares. I gave it 5 stars because usually after I read a book, I set it aside and that's it. Maybe I'll read it again in a few years if it's a classic etc. But a couple of these stories stuck with me so much that I wanted to go back and read them right away - Audrey at Night and The Tower Princesses were my favorites but several others stayed with me too.

If you like your stories beautifully twisted, pick this up. You won't be disappointed.
Profile Image for Kevin L.
408 reviews5 followers
July 6, 2017
This is a fantastic collection of short stories by Kiste. She has a gift for turns of phrase as well as telling rich stories in an efficient and impactful way.

I usually prefer novels over short stories, but I am fairly certain that I will revisit many stories in this collection again and again over the years. Highly recommended.

4.5 stars.
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